Participatory, Poetic Landscapes

HUMANISTIC, EXISTENTIAL and postmodern geographers, who have questioned viewing the world through an objectivist epistemology, or theory of meaning – are supported by some Western philosophers, biologists, neurophysiologists, environmentalists; and East Asian philosophy, particularly Taoism and Buddhism. Here very briefly, are the arguments of some others who advocate meaning or an epistemology based on an active and relational process of perception and cognition.

OBJECTIVISM AS A ‘GODS-EYE-VIEW’ of reality independent of human understanding is opposed by philosophers Mark Johnson and Hilary Putnam. According to the Objectivist orientation, which is rooted deeply in the Western philosophical and cultural tradition, the world consists of objects that have properties which stand in relationships independent of human understanding. Human beings can have no significant bearing on the nature of meaning and rationality.[i] Johnson, like Putnam, argues for realism based on our mediated understanding of our experience. They argue that experience is an “organism-environment interaction”. The organism and its environment are not independent and unrelated entities.[ii] Johnson concludes that objectivity “does not require taking up God’s perspective, which is impossible; rather, it requires taking up appropriately shared human perspectives that are tied to reality through our embodied imaginative understanding”.[iii]

Biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela reach very similar conclusions to Mark Johnson’s “embodied understanding” by “offering a scientific study of cognition as a biological phenomenon” wherein “the extremes of representationalism (objectivism) and solipsism (idealism)” are eschewed.[iv] The act of cognition does not simply mirror an objective reality “out there” – rather it is rooted in our biological structure and is an active process in which we actually create our world of experience through the process of living itself. We are “continuously immersed in a network of interactions, the results of which depend on history”.[v]

Steve Odin observes that “the primacy accorded to relational ‘field’ over that of the ‘substantial objects’ implicit in the ecological world view is also at the heart of the organismic paradigm of nature in East Asian philosophy, especially Taoism and Buddhism”.[vi]

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), environmentalist, scientist, ecologist, forester and writer of the classic ‘A Sand Country Almanac’ (1949) is widely regarded as establishing environmental ethics as a distinct branch of philosophy. His ethics arise from a “metaphysical presupposition that things in nature are not separate, independent, or substantial objects, but relational fields… the land is a single living organism wherein each part affects every other part”.[vii]

J. Baird Callicott an American philosopher of environment and ethics, follows the insights of Leopold and argues that “object-ontology is inappropriate to an ecological description of the natural environment. Living natural objects should be regarded as ontologically subordinate to “events” and/or “flow patterns” and/or “field patterns”.[viii]

THE RELATIONAL FIELD idea of environment or landscape, has been promoted by ecologists and some significant philosophers, East and West. In the Western philosophic tradition, English philosopher and mathematician, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was seminal with this view.

Modernism and hence objectivism was systematically challenged by Alfred North Whitehead. Regarded as one of the earliest postmodernists, Whitehead whose contribution to philosophy, mathematics and logic as well as metaphysics is “considered by many to be one of the great intellectual achievements of all time”[ix] is known in particular for his relational field view of reality. A.N. Whitehead gave the field concept of nature implied by ecology its fullest systematic expression in his process metaphysics and philosophy of organism.

As Odin points out, Whitehead “elaborates a panpsychic vision of nature as a creative and aesthetic continuum of living field events arising through their causal relations to every other event in the continuum”.[x] Odin argues that nature, in terms of the Gaia hypothesis, is “a synergistic ecosystem of symbiotic relationships” and this is the relational view of reality of many ecologists as well as much philosophy of East Asia based on Taoism and Buddhism.[xi]

Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski is another one who argues for a new epistemology based on a “participatory concept of truth” wherein ‘objectivity’ “has become a myth which is pernicious and which we need to transcend”.[xii] He holds that there is “a close and inevitable relationship between the view of the cosmos of a given people (cosmology) and the system of knowledge of a given people (epistemology). One recapitulates the other, and is in the image of the other. Thus the outer walls of the cosmos are the inner walls of the mind.”[xiii] In other words, there is a close and inevitable relationship between the landscape ‘focus of perception’ of a given people and the system of meaning or knowledge (epistemology) of a given people.

For example, Lopez argues that the rational, scientific approach to land loses something profound; rather the land is like poetry. For instance:

“A Lakota woman named Elaine Jahner once wrote that what lies at the heart of the religion of hunting peoples is the notion that a spiritual landscape exists within the physical landscape. To put it another way, occasionally one sees something fleeting in the land, a moment when line, color, and movement intensify and something sacred is revealed, leading one to believe that there is another realm of reality corresponding to the physical one but different.

In the face of a rational, scientific approach to the land, which is more widely sanctioned, esoteric insights and speculations are frequently overshadowed, and what is lost is profound. The land is like poetry: it is inexplicably coherent, it is transcendent in its meaning, and it has the power to elevate a consideration of human life.”[xiv]

[i] Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind – The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason (University of Chicago Press, 1987), x.

[ii] Ibid, 207.

[iii] Ibid, 212.

[iv] Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, The Tree of Knowledge – The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (New Science Library, Shambhala Publications, Inc. 1987), 214.

[v] Ibid, 241.

[vi] Steve Odin, ‘The Japanese Concept of Nature in Relation to the Environmental Ethics and Conservation Aesthetics of Aldo Leopold’, Environmental Ethics, v.13, no. 4 (1991), 350.

[vii] Ibid, 346; see also Aldo Leopold, A Sand Country Almanac: With Essays on Conservation from Round River (N.Y: Ballantine Books, 1966).

[viii] J. Baird Callicott and Roger T. Ames (eds.) Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought – Essays in Environmental Philosophy (State University of New York, 1989), 58.

[ix] Ted Honderich (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, (Oxford University Press, 1995), 909-910.

[x] Steve Odin, ‘The Japanese Concept of Nature in Relation to the Environmental Ethics and Conservation Aesthetics of Aldo Leopold’, 350.

[xi] Ibid, 360.

[xii] Henryk Skolimowski, The Participatory Mind – A New Theory of Knowledge and of the Universe (Arkana, Penguin Group, 1994), xviii-xix.

[xiii] Ibid, xvii.

[xiv] Lopez (1998) Arctic Dreams, 274.

The Primal, Sacred ‘Nature/Earth Landscape’

MIRCEA ELIADE, the historian of religion, once noted that:

“It was the prophets, the apostles, and their successors the missionaries who convinced the western world that a rock (which certain people have considered to be sacred) was only a rock, that the planets and stars were only cosmic objects – that is to say, that they were not (and could not be) either gods or angels or demons.”[i]

Earth worship persisted up to about 500 CE in Europe and is thought to have originated in Mesopotamia and spread throughout the Near and Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia. Earth worship corresponds to animism – the belief that everything is endowed with soul/spirit. Indeed, the concept of animism “extended to plants and animals because of the spiritual power (mana) they were perceived to have as children of the Earth Mother”.[ii]

Earth worship persists today among certain ‘native’ and aboriginal tribes who choose to retain their primal knowledge and traditions, with a relationship of kinship between human beings and all of creation – vegetation, animals, the elements and other planets.[iii] It is an holistic approach to life, with strong emphasis on the I-Thou relationship.[iv]

The traditional Maori landscape exemplifies the primal and sacred Nature/Earth Landscape. In the Maori cosmology all living things are descendents of Rangi (the Sky Father) and Papa (the Earth Mother) and thus are related. The ancient Maori regard for their land was such that “at times it seems doubtful whether it is the tribe who owns the mountain or river or whether the latter own the tribe”.[v]

For traditional Maori, separation from one’s landscape was a spiritual as well as a physical dislocation. The alienation of Maori land to Europeans was sometimes referred to as the death of the land.[vi] The intense and mysterious ties with the land were such that before being executed one Maori prisoner asked his captors to allow him to view his tribal territory once more and drink from his river.[vii]

The Nature/Earth Landscape ‘focus of perception’ was to change with the advent first of Judaism and then Christianity, where a monotheistic patriarchal God held dominion over nature and conferred human dominion over nature to ‘the chosen’ and ‘the righteous’. With the domination by missionary Christianity over primal peoples and their spirituality, the power balance shifted and the primal, sacred Nature/Earth Landscape was challenged and superseded by a new revelatory Anthropocentric Landscape.

Geographer of religion Erich Isaac (1960) drew the landscape distinction between primal “magical-cosmic religions” where “everything is potentially sacred, but only in a few chosen places is the potential realised” on the one hand, and the “great religions of revelation” where God is “in no way confined by space” and the divine is removed from the landscape, on the other.[viii]

For Isaac, religions of revelation “contrast with the magical-cosmic religions in that the divine is outside of nature and man, and no site is intrinsically holier than any other. Sites are hallowed by God’s choice of them at a particular historical moment. The tendency of religions of revelation is thus to remove the divine from the landscape”.[ix]

Paradoxically, “while God is conceived as in no way confined by space”, God is at the same time “confined in so far as He (sic) is regarded as peculiarly attached to certain specific localities” or holy sites.[x]

The man-made city in monotheistic religions came to symbolize the heavenly order. As Yi-Fu Tuan points out “The city symbolized heavenly order. Within its walls one found just rules and discriminations; beyond them lay chaos and arbitrariness. The most heart-felt eschatological longings drew on city imagery in utterance”.[xi] This reinforced the alienation felt for the Nature/Earth Landscape outside the city walls.

Jerusalem was the Holy City – the prime City of God. According to the Genesis myth of creation, “the earth was without form and void, darkness hovered over the face of the abyss and a mighty wind swept over the face of the waters” although, in the end, there is perfect order.

“St. John saw a new heaven and a new earth on which there no longer existed any sea or darkness for the glory of God gave light. In the beginning was confusion. In the end St. John beheld the holy city of Jerusalem, which had the crystalline structure and radiance of some priceless jewel (Revelation xxi).”[xii]

While God may be found in his Holy City Jerusalem, on the other hand it is argued by Belden C. Lane that for the Judeo-Christian tradition, a “God made proximate in place may be no God at all”.[xiii] The call to abandon the security of place is a persistent theme throughout Western religious thought. Samuel Terrien maintains that the theme of God’s elusive presence forms the heart and soul of biblical theology in both the Old and New Testaments.[xiv]

The Father-God is distanced from the Nature/Earth Landscape and in consequence it is de-sacralised. God is above nature. As Belden C. Lane points out, the German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) “spoke of this insistent rejection of pagan animism to have resulted in a ‘disenchantment’ of the world within the western mind, a freeing of nature from its intense religious associations”.[xv]

The God of the Old Testament, while distanced from nature, nevertheless establishes dominance over nature and confers the privilege of domination to the ‘chosen’ – the righteous and the faithful. God has the power to use nature to punish transgressors with natural disasters.

Thus geographer Jeanne Kay, writing in The Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 1989, maintains that human dominion over nature is inherent in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament within the Christian Bible):

“the Bible’s most persistent environmental message is that God confers human dominion over nature to righteous or faithful people, whereas God punishes transgressors with natural disasters… The themes of a beneficent environment as God’s rewards for good human behavior and a deteriorating environment as God’s punishment for evil resound throughout the Bible and were favorite themes of the prophets.”[xvi]

Christianity had followed in the Hebraic tradition of domination over nature. Yi-Fu Tuan points out that for early Christianity an express purpose was to “loosen man’s earthly bonds so that he might more easily enter the heavenly kingdom”.[xvii]

A CHANGE IN LANDSCAPE FOCUS AND IMAGINATION occurred, from one of perceiving the sacred in nature and the earth to an anthropocentric focus of perceiving the sacred to be in a heavenly ‘other world’ and in man’s soul – as distinct from his ‘profane’ physicality which linked him with other animals and the natural world .

This is well illustrated in the recounted experience of Petrarch, the fourteenth-century Renaissance humanist, poet and scholar. Taking a day off from his work on letters Petrarch decided to climb Mount Ventoux in southern France. From the summit of some 6,000 feet he took delight in the views of the distant chateau country of Avignon and the feeling of being “free and alone, among the mountains and forests”.[xviii] But as he stood in wonder he felt the urge to open Augustine’s Confessions, which he had brought along in his pocket, and there he read to his chagrin the Bishop of Hippo’s accusing words: “Men go gape at mountain peaks, at the boundless tides of the sea, the broad sweep of rivers, the encircling ocean, and the motions of the stars: And yet they leave themselves unnoticed; they do not marvel at themselves”.[xix] Petrarch later wrote that “I was abashed and I closed the book, angry with myself that I should still be admiring earthly things who might long ago have learned…that nothing is wonderful but the soul”.[xx] He left the mountain hurriedly, reflecting on how easily the world’s beauty can divert men and women from their proper concerns.

[i] Wendell, C, Bean & William G. Doty (eds.), Myths, Rites, Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), I, 128.

[ii] Andree Collard and Joyce Contrucci, Man’s Violence Against Animals and the Earth (Indiana University Press, 1989), 8.

[iii] Ibid, 7.

[iv] H. and H.A. Frankfort, John A. Wilson, Thorkild Jacobsen and William A. Irwin, The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man – An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946), 4-7.

[v] C.M.G. Gudgeon, ‘Mana Tangata’. The Journal of Polynesian Society, v.14, no.54 (1905), 57. Cf. Hong-Key Yoon, Maori Mind, Maori Land, Eratosthene Interdisciplinary Series (Bern & New York: Peter Lang, 1986), 58.

[vi] William Martin, The Taranaki Question (London: W.H. Dalton, 1961), 39. Cf. Hong-Key Yoon(1986) Maori Mind, Maori Land, 57 & 59.

[vii] Elsdon Best, The Maori (Polynesian Society, Wellington (1941 [1924]) vol.1), 397.

[viii] Erich Isaac, ‘Religion, Landscape and Space’, Landscape v.9, no.2 (Winter, 1959-60), 14-15.

[ix] Ibid, 16-17.

[x] Ibid, 17.

[xi] Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Sacred Space: Explorations of an Idea’, in: K. Butzner (ed.), Dimensions of Human Geography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 86.

[xii] Ibid, 86.

[xiii] Belden C. Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred – Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 189.

[xiv] Samuel Terrien, The Elusive Presence: The Heart of Biblical Theology (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978).

[xv] Lane (1988) Landscapes of the Sacred, 18.

[xvi] Jeanne Kay, ‘Human Dominion over Nature in the Hebrew Bible’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, v. 79 (1989), 214ff.

[xvii] Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Geopiety’, 26.

[xviii] Lane (1988) Landscapes of the Sacred, 187.

[xix] Ibid.,187- 188. Cf. Confessions of St. Augustine, X, viii, 5.

[xx] Ibid, 187-188.

Trickster Hero

THE HERO AND EGO are more developed in the Trickster than in the Anthropocentric Landscape of the Heavenly God-Father Archetype.

While the hero myths vary enormously in detail, structurally they are very similar. There is a universal pattern even although the myths were developed by groups or individuals without direct cultural contact.

The special function of the hero myth is the development of the individual’s ego consciousness and his exploration and coming to awareness of his own strengths and weaknesses, which equips him for later challenges of life.[i] Joseph L. Henderson argues:

“Over and over again one hears a tale describing a hero’s miraculous but humble birth, his early proof of superhuman strength, his rapid rise to prominence or power, his triumphant struggle with the forces of evil, his fallibility to the sin of pride (hybris), and his fall through betrayal or a “heroic” sacrifice that ends in his death.” [ii]

Erich Neumann states “The hero is always a light-bringer and emissary of light … The hero’s victory brings with it a new spiritual status, a new knowledge, and an alteration of consciousness”: the heroic age is characterised as the “predominance of individual personality”.[iii] All are characteristics of the Trickster Hero.

The heroic culminates in the Technological/Materialist Landscape in the development of science and the world as object:[iv]

“The activity of masculine consciousness is heroic in so far as it voluntarily takes upon itself the archetypal struggle with the dragon of the unconscious and carries it to successful conclusion… The correlation of consciousness with masculinity culminates in the development of science, as an attempt by the masculine spirit to emancipate itself from the power of the unconscious. Wherever science appears it breaks up the original character of the world, which was filled with unconscious projections. Thus, stripped of projection, the world becomes objective, a scientific construction of the mind.” [v]

THE TRICKSTER HERO PITS HIMSELF AGAINST THE OLD GOD. Neumann maintains that in the modern world the disintegration of the old system of values is in full swing.[vi] In the modern world the hero with his human ego pits himself against the old deity. Thus:

“the hero ceases to be instrument of the gods and begins to play his own independent part as a human being; and when he finally becomes, in modern man a battleground for suprapersonal forces, where the human ego pits itself against the deity. As breaker of the old law, man becomes the opponent of the old system and the bringer of the new, which he confers upon mankind against the will of the old deity.” [vii]

[i] Carl Jung (ed.), Man and His Symbols (London: Picador, Pan Books, 1978).

[ii] Joseph L. Henderson, ‘Ancient Myths and Modern Man’ in: Carl Jung (ed.), Man and His Symbols, 101.

[iii] Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness (New York: Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XLII, 1973), 160-161.

[iv] Ibid, 340-341.

[v] Ibid, 340-341.

[vi] Ibid, 390.

[vii] Ibid, 177.

Trickster

“Technology is neither devil nor an angel. But neither is it simply a “tool” a neutral extension of some rock-solid human nature. Technology is a trickster…

[The Trickster] Hermes became agoraios, “he of the agora,” the patron saint of merchants, middlemen, and the service industry, while the god’s epithet “tricky” came to mean “good for securing profit”. “
– Erik Davis

“Freely developing technology has always been an historical wild card and a potentially destabilizing element. Free markets and technologies do not necessarily produce a stable, predictable social order, but they do promote individual liberty.”
– Frederich R. Lynch

“Trickster God is Universal”

THE TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE – or Trickster God, otherwise known in the West as the Greek God Hermes – is universal. Trickster is found in the mythologies of many peoples. Like Hecate – whose cult probably spread from Anatolia into Greece and who is associated with Hermes – Trickster is the quintessential master of boundaries and transitions. He brings both good luck and bad, both profit and loss. He is the patron of both travellers and thieves. Like Hecate, Trickster is the guide of souls to the underworld and the messenger of the gods. He surprises mundane reality with the unexpected and miraculous. In traditional primal cultures, Trickster emerges under the dominance of the Earth Mother.[i] Combs and Holland point out:

“The trickster god is universal. He is known to the Native American peoples as Ictinike, Coyote, Rabbit and others; he is Maui to the Polynesian Islanders; Loki to the old Germanic tribes of Europe; and Krishna in the sacred mythology of India. Best known to most of us in the West is the Greek god Hermes, who represents the most comprehensive and sophisticated manifestation of the Trickster.” [ii]

However, the Trickster God is not confined just to traditional primal cultures – today he is well and truly at home in the Technological/Materialist Landscape.

Trickster is at Home Today

AS JUNG STATES, the Trickster appears par excellence in modern man:

“He is a forerunner of the saviour, and like him, God, man, and animal at once. He is both subhuman and superhuman, a bestial and divine being whose chief and most alarming characteristic is his unconscious.” [iii]

While Hermes the Greek God is not reducible to the Trickster; in the West, the Trickster is frequently associated with Hermes – for example ‘Trickster Hermes’ and ‘Hermes the Trickster’. Combs and Holland argue that the Trickster God is universal:

“Best known to us in the West is the Greek God Hermes, who represents the most comprehensive and sophisticated manifestation of the Trickster.” [iv]

The Trickster, like Hermes and Hecate, is also specifically associated with liminality[v] – thresholds, or the point beyond which a sensation becomes too faint to be experienced.

Above all the Trickster is fun. In the Technological/Materialist Landscape we are all imbued with the Trickster and ‘his’ exploits – both angelic and devilish. We partake in his exuberance, ambitions, boundary exploration, trickery, games, sleights-of-hand, personas, commercial success, communications expertise, technological genius, liminality and in his shadow-side – if not in actuality then in fantasy. We both applaud him and are appalled by him. We live vicariously through the Trickster and his shadow via entertainment – films, video games and the mass communications of television, internet, texting, smart phones, magazines and books.

Today we are imbued with the Trickster. For those whose ‘focus of perception’ is primarily the Technological/Materialist Landscape, the symbolic correspondence between the individual’s inner life and the outer world has many of the characteristics inherent in the Trickster Archetype. When “an individual’s inner life corresponds in a symbolic way to the outer objective world, the two are connected by meaning”.[vi] In other words the inner life connected by symbolic meaning to the outer world is an indication of the governance of an archetype. As Combes and Holland state:

“The themes carried by archetypes are universal: they are neither wholly internal nor wholly external but are woven into the deepest fabric of the cosmos. This notion is supported by Jung’s idea that archetypes have their origins in the unus mundus, or “one world”, which is at the foundation of the psyche and the objective, physical world. Bohm’s concept of the holographic universe offers similar possibilities. It follows, then, that myths as expressions of archetypes might be expected to portray certain aspects of the object world as well as depicting psychological realities. Indeed many of the Greek Gods represent aspects of reality that overarch both the inner worlds of human experience and the external worlds of nature and society.” [vii]


[i] See for example Paul Radin, The Trickster – A Study in American Indian Mythology, with commentaries by Karl Kerenyi and C.G. Jung (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956).

[ii] Alan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity – Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 82.

[iii] C.G. Jung, Four Archetypes (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980),142-3. (Note: The internet throws up almost 13,000 associations between Trickster and Hermes).

[iv] Allan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity – Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 82.

[v] George P. Hansen, The Trickster and the Paranormal (Philadelphia: Xlibris Corporation, 2001).

[vi] Allan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity – Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 97.

[vii] Ibid, 79.

Four Imaginal-Visionary Landscapes and Historical Changes

POETS, MYSTICS, DEEP ECOLOGISTS, mythologists and religious savants have always shared and cherished the role of imagination within landscape. For children, mystics and primal peoples, the immersion of imagination in the sacred Nature/Earth Landscape can also be an existential way of being.

Paradoxically, it would seem that spiritual and imaginal-visionary landscapes are simultaneously both timeless and have undergone historical change. There is a timelessness or historical transcendence in our understanding of and our potentiality to participate in different spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes which could be called archetypal. This archetypal aspect of landscape, which is historically transcendent or centred in the individual’s psyche, will be considered in the next chapter.

At the collective level, particularly in the West, there have been discernable historical changes in spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes. The collective historical change in sacred landscape imagination has been noted by a number of geographers and cultural historians.[i]

IN THE WEST the progressive delineation of four major historical changes in imaginal-visionary landscapes is proposed, namely: from (1) the primal, sacred Nature/Earth Landscape; to (2) the Judaic-Christian Anthropocentric Landscape; to (3) the modernist ‘secular’ Technological/Materialist Landscape; then to (4) the Postmodern Ecological Landscape and a consideration of an Inner Landscape.

With the Postmodern Ecological Landscape we seem to have created a full circle return to the sacred Nature/Earth Landscape imagination and vision. However, it is a self-conscious return and it often comes with an awareness of the role of the imagination and the inner mind (or psyche/soul) in creating and choosing landscape. We can by virtue of will change the way we imagine and visualise the landscape and hence our ‘focus of perception’.

THE FOLLOWING POINTS can be made with regard to the four spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes as noted above: (1) Each of these landscapes is a major ‘focus of perception’ – hence a major focus in seeing, feeling, being and relating. These landscapes are not necessarily a totality (2) They are inherent to Western culture and history but there may be other landscapes and good arguments for other landscapes. (3) The four landscapes are not mutually exclusive.

While each of the landscapes has been predominant at particular times in Western history, at the individual level they are not mutually exclusive. An example of this is that there can be no Nature/Earth Landscape without an Anthropocentric Landscape for humans at least. This is because people are brought up as social animals and cannot survive apart from other people from birth. The Nature/Earth Landscape even for primal peoples and cultures will always be peopled and infused with an anthropocentric culture.[ii]


[i] See Lynn White Jr., ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis’, Science, 155, March (1967), no. 3767, pp. 1203-1207; Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Geopiety: A Theme in Man’s Attachment to Nature and Place’ in: David Lowenthal and Martin J. Bowden, (eds.), Geographies of the Mind: Essays in Historical Geography in Honor of John Kirkland Wright (N.Y: Oxford University Press, 1976), 13-14; Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Sacred Space: Explorations of an Idea’ in: K. Butzer (ed.), Dimensions of Human Geography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 87-100; Belden C. Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred — Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality (New York/Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1988); Peter Bishop, The Myth of Shangri-La – Tibet, Travel Writing and the Western Creation of Sacred Landscape (University of California Press, 1989): William Irwin Thompson, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1989).

[ii] See James G. Cowan, ‘Aboriginal Solitude’, Parabola Magazine, vol.17, no. 1 (1992), 62-67.

Postmodern Geographers and Imaginal Landscapes

THE LINK BETWEEN mind, imagination and landscape has been celebrated by some eminent geographers. As geographer historian John Kirtland Wright (1891-1969) once commented; “The most fascinating terrae incognitae of all are those that lie within the minds and hearts of men”.[i]

David Lowenthal is another geographer who has made a strong advocacy for personal and collective cultural imagination and creativity as underlying our images and ideas of the world and the earth.

“Every image and idea about the world is compounded, then, of personal experience, learning, imagination, and memory… The surface of the earth is shaped for each person by refraction through cultural and personal lenses of custom and fancy… We are all artists and landscape architects, creating order and organizing space, time, and causality in accordance with our apperceptions and predilections… The geography of the world is unified only by human logic and optics, by the light and color of artifice, by decorative arrangement, and by ideas of the good, the true, and the beautiful.”[ii]

Placing this within a temporal and historical perspective, Lowenthal emphasizes the importance of image:

“The lineaments of the world we live in are both seen and shaped in accordance, or by contrast, with images we hold of other worlds, past worlds, future worlds. We constantly compare the reality with the fancy. Indeed, without the one we could neither visualize nor conceptualize the other.”[iii]

In 1971 geographer Yi-Fu Tuan maintained a deep identity between man and world: how we think about the world is revelatory of the inner man. Thus geography “reveals man… knowledge of the world elucidates the world of man: the root meaning of “world” (wer) is in fact man: to know the world is to know oneself… Geography mirrors man”.[iv]

For geographer Denis Cosgrove “all landscapes are symbolic” and are “expressions of cultural values, a code by which collective meaning can be read”; they express in the words of geographer Donald Meinig ‘a persistent desire to make the earth over in the image of some heaven’ and they “undergo change because they are expressions of society, itself making history through time”.[v]

In 1991 geographer H.K. Yoon coined the term ‘geomentality’ which, he maintained, is “the foundation of and key to understanding geography of mind”.[vi] A geomentality can be held by an individual or a group of people about a particular environment. It is “an established and lasting frame (state) of mind regarding the environment”.[vii]

Coinciding with and stimulated by the advent of postmodernism, geographers have had a renewed revival of interest in metaphor, image and imagination in the creation of landscape. For example, D. Matless, 1992, argued that geographers exploring landscape:

“have sought to develop a form of analysis in which transcendent, ahistorical, biological or spiritual categories are explored to investigate human responses to landscape. Cosgrove in particular phrases this approach in postmodern terms, and in doing so raises key issues regarding the status of image and metaphor…Whether or not they conceive of their endeavor as ‘postmodern’… there would appear to be a search underway for an elevated, transcendent base.”[viii]

Denis Cosgrove, 1990, pronouncing the status of image and metaphor and depicting his approach to geography and landscape in postmodern terms, puts the case as follows:

“My argument is that both in the later sixteenth century – immediately preceding the Scientific Revolution, and in the closing decades of the twentieth century – following the scientific and intellectual contributions of relativity and psychoanalysis, there have been serious attempts to collapse Modernist distinctions between spirit and matter, humans and nature, subject and object, poesis and techne. In both cases understanding is constituted neither in solely operational, nor entirely speculative terms, but rather through the construction of metaphor and image by individuals actively embracing the materiality of the world, recognizing the necessity of mechanical intervention in transforming nature, but refusing to be ruled by the materialist and mechanical vision of Modernism. Metaphor and image are conceived not as surface representations of a deeper truth but as a creative intervention in making truth.”[ix]

For Cosgrove people “seek to create meaning and do so through metaphor” and that rather than being grasped by empirical observation or measurement this meaning is “apprehended phenomenologically, below the intellectual level of formal science”.[x]Further, meaning is “increasingly constructed through images”.[xi] Postmodernism has promoted in some respects an “evocative sense of metaphor as that which lies between fact and idea. The metaphor may thus picture or represent an understanding which must otherwise remain unarticulated.”[xii] In the words of K. Harries: “What metaphor names may transcend human understanding so that our language cannot capture it”.[xiii]

Radically for a geography which has traditionally been entrenched in scientific empiricism, Cosgrove argues that “Scientific discourse has always been metaphorical in the Aristotelian sense, but has proclaimed a privileged ‘truth’ for its metaphors or models in representing reality”. However, with the shift from metaphors of science to those of the arts and the “rejection of foundationalism in post-modern writings” there is an implied “relativity in which the competing claims of different representations can not be evaluated”.[xiv] If pure perspectivalism is accepted it “opens the door, at least in thought, to transcendence of its own limits, to metaphysics and thus to the collapse of clear distinctions between science and poetics”.[xv] Cosgrove concludes:

“We need to locate the history of our discipline within a broader historiography of constant metaphorical and imaginative reconstruction of nature and our place within it, not seeking ultimate foundations for spatial and environmental metaphors and images but rather respecting them as ‘more or less adequate and fragmentary repetition of that speech which nature, or perhaps God, addresses us.”[xvi]

In the postmodern camp and tracking a new way forward, Peter Bishop explores links between landscape geography, archetypal psychology and postmodern epistemological ways of knowledge and meaning. Bishop maintains that the attitude towards rhetoric, metaphor and imagery is central to the definition of postmodernism and postmodern scholarship – “that questions about the relationship between archetypal psychology and geography mirrors the wider postmodern phenomenon of comparative knowledges”.[xvii]

THE EMPHASIS ON METAPHOR, symbolism, transcendence and imagistic reconstruction are characteristic of both postmodernism and an archetypal analysis. As we have seen, the role of the imagination in the creation of landscape is of increasing interest to geographers. However it is in the consideration of spiritual landscapes and sacred places that landscape as a manifestation of personal and collective imagination becomes most apparent. And so we now turn to a consideration of historical changes in spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes.

[i] John Kirtland Wright, ‘Terrae Incognitae: The Place of the Imagination in Geography’, Annals, Association of American Geographers, vol.37 (1947), 15.

[ii] David Lowenthal, ‘Geography, Experience, and Imagination: Towards a Geographical Epistemology’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, v. 51, no.3, September (1961), 260.

[iii] David Lowenthal and Martyn J. Bowden (eds.), Geographies of the Mind – Essays in Historical Geosophy (Oxford University Press, 1975), 3.

[iv] Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Geography, Phenomenology, and the Study of Human Nature’, Canadian Geographer, v.15 (1971), 181.

[v] See Denis Cosgrove, Social and Symbolic Landscape (Croom Helm, London & Sydney, 1984), 35. See also Donald Meinig (ed.), The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes (Oxford University Press, 1979) 6. Note: Both refer to the seminal importance of the writings of J.B. Jackson and to his journal Landscape.

[vi] Hong-Key Yoon, ‘On Geomentality’, Geo Journal, v.25, no.4 (1991), 392.

[vii] Ibid, 387.

[viii] D. Matless, ‘An Occasion for Geography: Landscape, Representation, and Foucault’s Corpus’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, v.10 (1992), 44-45.

[ix] Denis Cosgrove, ‘Environmental Thought and Action: Pre-modern and Post-modern’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, v.15 (1990), 345.

[x] Ibid, 352.

[xi] Ibid, 353.

[xii] Ibid, 345.

[xiii] K. Harries, ‘Metaphor and Transcendence’ in: S. Sacks (ed.), On Metaphor (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1978), 72.

[xiv] Cosgrove(1990) ‘Environmental Thought and Action’, 345.

[xv] Ibid, 345.

[xvi] Ibid, 357.

[xvii] Peter Bishop, ‘Rhetoric, Memory and Power: Depth Psychology and Postmodern Geography’, Environmental and Planning D: Society and Space, v.10 (1992), 5.

Imaginal-Visionary Landscapes

Landscape is a connector of the soul with Being.
– Belden C. Lane

Our perceptions are colored by preconception and desire… landscapes in which history unfolds are both real, that is, profound in their physical effects on mankind, and not real, but mere projections, artifacts of human perception.
–Barry Lopez

LANDSCAPES ARE imaginal and they are visionary.[i] They are both timeless and they are time-bound, hence particular spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes predominate in particular historical epochs.

GEOGRAPHERS HAVE FOR A LONG TIME understood the idea that our landscapes spring forth from personal and collective imagination.

However it is the postmodern geographers who place most importance on the role of the imagination in creating landscape. In part this is due to their understanding and receptivity to depth, analytical and archetypal psychology, where there has been a revival of interest in the image, the imagination and the imaginal. It is an old way of finding meaning and it is a theory of knowledge which has had a relatively recent revival in the twentieth century.

Seminal in the revival of this epistemology, or imaginal theory of knowledge and meaning in recent times are such thinkers as Jung and his theory of the collective unconscious; Bachelard, Professor of Philosophy of Science at the Sorbonne, who raised poetic imagination to a level equal in importance to scientific knowledge; Claude Levi-Strauss (1908-2009) anthropologist and ethnologist, regarded as the “father of modern anthropology”, who spoke of cultures which did not neglect the feminine guide of the imagination, the creative Sophia; Henry Corbin, with his translations of the ancient Persian pre-Islamic Mystics and the Mazdean, Shi’ite and Sufi mystics (thirteen centuries in which the imaginal has been the focal point); as well as the romantics, the surrealists and most recently postmodernists.

Gilbert Durand concludes that imagination gives “the possibility of experiencing the noumenal… the imaginal is the New World that allows the revival of this gnosis”.[ii]

It is however in the consideration of sacred landscapes and sacred places that the role of the imagination becomes most apparent.

[i] The term imaginal means relating to, or resembling an image (Cf. Collins English Dictionary, London (1979), 731). The term is used most notably by such thinkers as Henry Corbin and Gilbert Durand.

[ii] Gilbert Durand ‘Exploration of the Imaginal’, Spring (1971), 88.